Zimmerman and Martin and The Two Minutes

It has been 18 months since the death of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012. When a tragedy of this scale occurs in the course of what might otherwise be described as an ordinary day, the word WHY pops up for me in capital letters.

         A trial lasting over a month, 15 hours of jury deliberation, and countless media stories have attempted to answer WHY, various media outlets have taken sides on WHY, drawn lessons from WHY and still it strikes me that we know more inflammatory details than facts.

Yes, passion has entered into the picture. Words like ‘racially charged,’ ‘profiling, vigilante and ‘hoodie wearing suspect’ have been hurled about. Please consider however on that fatal night, that until shortly after 7:00 pm, the two actors in this tragedy were just ordinary guys like you and me going about the simple tasks of everyday life.

         Then—in two minutes—life could no longer be taken for granted. According to Wikipedia, there were only two minutes between 7:15 pm, the time George Zimmerman hung up on his 911 phone call and 7:17, when Sanford policeman Timothy Smith arrived to observe Zimmerman and Martin, Martin by this time dead. Here’s another fact, again from Wikipedia: The scene of this death was but 70 yards from the unit where Trayvon Martin was staying at the time.

         Would that Zimmerman had waited just 10 seconds until Martin arrived at his destination, opening his door with a key that fit the lock just right.

         Only two minutes.

         Do I judge Zimmerman in this? Do I judge Martin in this?

         No, all I am saying is two minutes can last forever.

         Be careful, even on ordinary days.

Ted Magnuson is the author of The Bouchard Legacy, the story of two step-brothers, one black, one white, and a fourth generation family business set in St Louis and America 1968-1979. Paul has earned his inheritance, but Randy owns it. The Cover of The Bouchard Legacy

Link to the Bouchard Legacy


Alternative Energy? It’s not always rocket science.

Alternative sources of energy: is it too complex, too ‘out there’ to even contemplate? Worse, is pursuit of glamour and glitz getting the go-ahead while the practical gets pushed aside?

Sure, wind farms look good, so long as the wind blows steadily. Solar has promise, too. But. There could well be more practical alternatives right under our very feet. Two examples- one to do with life down on the farm, and then, let’s head up to the big city.

If you have ever had the pleasure of staying over in a bed and breakfast; next to a feedlot (or even driven by a feed lot at 80 miles an hour on the interstate), you know that the stench of manure is nothing to sniff at. Yet, this vapor, rich in methane gas, can, with the help of an anaerobic manure digester, be transformed into energy.

In addition to producing energy, an anaerobic manure digester improves hygiene of the farm, reducing odor, fly problems and the like. It provides animal bedding, and creates a fertilizer rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Incidentally, if you scoff at the existence of ‘odor free methane gas,’ methane is key ingredient in natural gas.  Thank you, Sierra Club for this tip. See: Sierra Club Magazine/March-April 2012.

Oh and hey kids, build your ‘AMD’ right here: USDA guidance Perhaps some kind of loan funding could help the farming community in this transition.

Now on to the city. Performance Contracting is where energy costs can be markedly reduced. We are all becoming familiar with this process. As old furnaces die, more efficient furnaces are going on line. Better insulation, lower-cost-to-operate lights, and more fuel efficient cars with a longer service life are also examples of this trend.

A little more complex, but with the implementation of smart electrical grids, rates for energy usage can be demand based. Power plants are currently being built to meet peak demand times- i.e. extreme weather, hot or cold. But if some activities can be time-shifted to lower demand times, it may become cost-effective for rate payers to shift their demand and the electric utility to offer a reduced rate to encourage users to do so, thus changing consumption patterns and leveling demand throughout the day.

On a larger scale, here are other examples of more energy-efficient practices: An office building in Okinawa freezes a water reservoir at night, to provide cool air-conditioning by day.  In Zimbabwe, the Eastgate Centre uses a design inspired by African termites to markedly reduce AC and heating costs.

We are definitely in for a very interesting next 10-20 years. Will algal oil ever become practical? Why pump primordial ooze out of the ground that began fermenting way back in the Paleozoic Era and it often only accessible in dangerous, difficult and inconvenient places. Instead, we we can brew our own…

What’s next, brave new worlders? Solar panels in space, with power microwaved to earth stations?  Gigawatt megapolis sized batteries…The only limit is in the imaginative genius of our scientists and engineers and the support of our citizenry.

Boiling Mad or Moiling Bad?

Call it entitlement, call it one-up-man ship or trigger finger. Have I slowed down in my decaffeinated days or have I become more perceptive? It seems people have become increasingly ready to take offense. Perhaps some fiend has sprinkled hot lava on the various phonemes and mouthings that we utter in order to communicate. Words should not be near as inflammatory as it would appear they have become.
Case in point. Recently I saw an erstwhile minister on youtube working his flock into a lather. “Let’s teach our children to text their representatives, jam their switchboards, vote the legislation down. No mention was made of any specific legislation. Perhaps it was discussed off camera. The image though of all of these crazed youths, he even went so far as to suggest they weren’t even yet of voting age, to vote the legislation down. Tweet them, text them, harangue the legislators, it all appeared to be quite hateful, hurtful and the crowd loved it.
Now I’m all in favor of difference of opinion. As an author, I realize the essence of story is conflict. As a member of society, I must admit my own life would probably be too dull to be good story material. That’s why I like fiction. I can create a world filled with conflict where my team wins.
So far as real life is concerned; discussion, pros and cons, problem/solution; these are dynamics I can understand. However, when we get to a point where we are encouraging impressionable youth to view their legislators as hideous cave-dwellers out to suck the life out of society, as archfiends who live in some murky proximity of a video game, and they can be ponged with a text message, I’ve got to say ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’
I am reminded of my own days in the insurance business where the salesmen were to sell insurance and as a salesman; it was our job to ‘hoodwink’ the underwriters. By the by, whatever happened to my old boss who told me this? I remember one case in particular. The company was on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. There was a moral risk. My handler, excuse me, manager advised me to go ahead and submit the case anyway. He said “What the underwriter doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” Silly me, but why would anyone want to insure a business about to declare bankruptcy? The claims began coming in shortly after the case was written.
Now, at that point, if ever there was a case for competition, wouldn’t this plum have sat much better in some other insurer’s portfolio? Please don’t call me heartless for having no compassion for folks down on their luck. Believe me, this retailer was no saint.
We tend to gloss over such irregularities in the force-field that surrounds the society in which we live and move and have our being. Nostalgia can be most infectious in this regard. When it comes to disparate groups of people getting along, I am reminded of Aunt Eller’s philosophy in Oklahoma She sings “The farmer and the cowman should be friends.” A key phrase in this song goes “I’m no better than anybody else/But I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good.”
Now here is a philosophy with some real legs. This is the stance we can all take and society would be the better for it. Take our work seriously, but our own self-importance with a grain of salt. Not to be pushed around, but to be heard. There is a simple test that we should all be training ourselves and those we come in contact with, the next time we encounter a so-called commentator, a so-called friend, or even someone in the street driving a supercharged red pickup with lifters- Does the encounter cause the hair on the back of my neck to stand up? Can I defuse? Please remember to breathe. Remember, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. This too, will pass. Halleleuh.

A Little Too Free for the Common Good?

Broadband has now given the public a splintered rainbow of opinions. ‘Who can tell the accuracy of any given ‘read’ on a situation? Accountability has to be factored into the process. Perhaps that is why ‘Mission Statements’ have become so popular of late. Of course, mission statements are nothing new. And even the most concise such statements offer an opportunity to ‘read between the lines. For example, let’s pick apart these two statements: “The No Spin Zone, and All the News that’s Fit to Print.”
In the first example, one may well ask ‘Of all the words available in the English Language, why does Bill Reilly gravitate towards the word Spin?’ As to the New York Times choosing ‘Fit,’ this too leads to some interesting speculation…such as ‘What doesn’t fit?’
Perhaps that’s why the internet has incubated this splintered rainbow of opinion we find on our blackberries and elsewhere- finding places where the news will fit.
Indeed it would benefit everyone to develop their own mission statement. A mission statement can serve like a rudder that guides the ship out on the vast sea of information that is available to those willing to sift through the facts.
Before being swayed by the various pundits and arbiters of reality one might do well to consider a mission statement like armor, too. In this age of rapid change, perhaps a drastic example could illustrate this point. Once upon a time when the world was young, and automobiles were just coming on the scene, as those on horse drawn carriages might have passed a broken down motorist, the well horsed traveler might have smiled as his horses trotted by the avant-garde motorist with a cheery greeting of ‘Get A Horse.’
Now, fast forward a hundred years and the motorist is in many places ruler of the road. Horses are nowhere to be found. What of that brass plated opinion of yesterday? Get a Horse indeed. If it can be found at all, it’s in the dustbin of history.
Perhaps today, as a go-by-rail commuter passes stalled commuter traffic on the ‘expressway’ the rail commuter ‘might mutter ‘Get a metro pass.’ Warning/opinion to follow: Will rising fuel costs turn our highways into the exclusive purview of local delivery services, inspectors and salesmen?
Getting back to ‘Get a Horse.’ If that message has any meaning now, it could serve as an invitation to a well-to-do city-slicker (or a farm family); to get into the pleasurable (but time-and-money consuming) pastime of horseback riding.
New is not always good. Old is not always good either. This brings us back to the original issue; how can we tell which news source has got the real fire, the heart of the matter, and who’s blowing smoke? Who’s got the interests of the common welfare in mind and who is more interested in feathering the nest of special interests?
Reading a variety of sources can help sort this thing out. But also establishing a mission statement, to support those whose point of view agree with our own, to stand up for what we believe, that may be the final word.
As a person develops a mission statement, some criteria I would offer to measure the validity of an issue are as follows:
• Does the opinion expressed stand on its own or is it borne along by demeaning the opposite point of view?
• Does the opinion offer a positive direction or does it argue that this is ‘an emergency crisis situation; there are no other options?’
All this philosophizing came about the other day as I happened to hear a talk radio host rant “Charisma shouldn’t count in reporting a political candidate.” Ironically, he made quite the point of how reportage shouldn’t be laden with ‘touchy feely’ emotional comment—(Is bitter vitriol better) ?
I turned off the radio as I’d reached my destination; the neighborhood garden store. I hadn’t anticipated planting a garden, but how the clerk rhapsodized over growing your own green beans.
As I returned to my car with my packet of seeds I wondered how the talk radio host might react to my decision. Perhaps he would take me to task for going to so much trouble, being so gullible to the clerk’s ‘implication’ (real men till the soil). The talk show host might even be so bold as to point out his sponsor’s grocery chain sell perfectly adequate canned green beans with only 5% of the nutrients.
It’s a free country, although some of us may be a little too free for the common good.